When I was a little girl I went through the whole horse phase. I gobbled up books by Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry. I could still tell you all about the Black Stallion and the Goldophin Arabian and list off Man’o’War’s record at the track. So when I heard the name Mustang Annie my mind immediately wandered to the real Mustang Annie, who lobbied and fought to save the wild horses of Nevada. This story isn’t about her, but another Annie, a little further back in time, who loved horses just as much.
Annie Harper is a woman who is just surviving. All the life has gone from her, buried with her husband four years earlier, when Brett Corrigan comes looking for her on a dusty Nevada ranch. He watches her break a wild mustang and realizes that she must be the notorious Mustang Annie he’s been looking for. Although he knows the law is after her for horse theft, the Louisiana gambler offers her a job. Brett needs her to round up a band of wild horses back home in Texas: a band that contains several of his prize Arabian and Thoroughbred fillies stolen by a black stallion he’s dubbed Blue Fire.
Annie has her reasons for not going back to Texas and turns him down flat. But the U.S. Marshals are just a step behind Brett, so Annie high tails it for the Texas border and agrees to get his horses back for an exorbitant amount. Brett is fascinated by Annie, even though she fights him over everything. He is willing to pay anything to get his horses back, and eventually he realizes that keeping Annie is even more important.
Normally I don’t like heroines who disagree with everything the hero does and refuse every bit of kindness offered, but Ms. Morgan has done a wonderful job of portraying Annie’s painful history and the reader can see why she is so skittish. Annie has lost everyone and everything that was ever dear to her, except for her horse Chance. When the story opens she’s drifting through life waiting for the law and her past to catch up with in the form of a hangman’s noose. It’s little wonder she’s confused by Brett’s kindness and sees ulterior motives in everything he does.
As for Brett, he’s a man with his own angst filled past. A man trying to avoid becoming his father only to find that’s who he’s turning into. Ever since he turned twenty he’s been able to have any woman he wants, but he isn’t cocky with it. He appreciates women and loves each woman he’s been with, but it’s Annie – who spurns him – with whom he falls in love. He wants to find out why her eyes are empty and hold her until all the pain is gone. Annie gives him the key to winning her heart when they discuss the best way to tame a horse. He proposes the way he was taught – having a rider get on its back and break the horse’s spirit. But Annie shows him another way: wooing and winning it’s trust.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is when Ms. Morgan describes in detail Annie’s method of taming a mustang. It’s a method using the modified signals horses give each other to win their trust. Unfortunately, this is a fairly new method. Books have been published recently on it, but it’s not the accepted way of breaking a horse to saddle even today. So it did stretch my disbelief that Annie, a woman in post Civil War Texas (no exact time is given), learned to tame horses this way.
My only other quibble was that there were early errors in the dialogue and with the dialogue tags, or lack thereof. There are places where the speakers were mixed up and didn’t match up with the lines. This is not a constant occurrence, but it happened enough to pull me out of the narrative flow of the story. And while the book is slow going initially, it certainly grew on me. Initially easy to set aside, as soon as Brett and Annie got out on the trail of the horses and began spending more time together, they began to open up. It was at this point that I found myself caring more and more for Brett and Annie.
Mustang Annie is a story for those who enjoy a story about people learning to trust and come together as equals; and anyone that grew up with books like Misty of Chincoteague topping their reading lists.